Judge bars journalists from child care trial after father said press would make him 'anxious'

High Court UK

A High Court judge overseeing a separated couple’s dispute about the care of a child has barred journalists from attending a private trial.

The child’s father, who has been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, asked Mr Justice Williams to exclude reporters from the trial, which is due to be staged soon in private in the Family Division of the High Court.

He said if journalists attended he would be anxious.

The child’s mother and journalists objected, but Mr Justice Williams ruled in the man’s favour after considering evidence from a psychologist at preliminary hearings.

Rules allow journalists to attend private hearings in the Family Division of the High Court and in family courts – although they can normally only publish reports with a judge’s permission.

But the man argued that the presence of the press would compromise his ability to give evidence.

A psychologist had examined the man, diagnosed a depressive disorder and said there was a connection between his anxiety and the involvement of the press in the case.

Mr Justice Williams said in a ruling that the psychologist’s report made “alarming reading”.

The judge said there was an “evidential basis” which showed that the presence of the press would be likely to have a “direct impact” on the man’s “psychological/psychiatric” state.

He concluded that excluding the press from the trial was necessary for the man’s protection and in the interests of the child.

A specialist guardian appointed by the judge to represent the interests of the child supported the man’s application for journalists to be excluded.

The child’s mother and journalists opposed the application, and said barring reporters from the trial was not necessary or proportionate.

Journalists said the press had a “watchdog” role which was “even more important” when their right to report was restricted.

They said medical evidence did not demonstrate the man’s condition was serious enough to justify the exclusion of the press.

The child’s mother said she wanted journalists to be in court so they could act as watchdogs.

Mr Justice Williams is due to oversee the trial remotely in the near future.

The judge, who has overseen preliminary private hearings in London and remotely, is expected to make decisions relating to how much time the child should spend with each parent.

He said on Monday that his decision on press exclusion could be revealed after a reporter argued that the issue was a matter of public interest and the ruling unusual.

But Mr Justice Williams said the parties involved in the dispute could not be identified in media reports of the decision.

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